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10 Most Common Car Seat Installation Mistakes

January 30, 2012

I know I’ve made about 4 of these car seat installation mistakes and I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone. In fact, I know I’m not: studies show that 82 percent or 9 out of 10 car seats are not installed and used correctly. Even more upsetting? Crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old. Suddenly, taking the extra 10 minutes to install a car seat correctly in a livery, taxi or your car seems absolutely worth it.

Baby Bodyguards, a professional baby proofing service based in Brooklyn, is an expert on our blog. This month they wrote to tell me that they are most concerned about improperly installed car seats. They do approximately 5  car seat installations a day and they notice the same errors time and time again. They listed them below so we can check ourselves against them. (I am currently guilty of #3, 5 AND 7.  I need to get on this today.)

If you want some visual help in checking your car seat installation, I found these videos very helpful. Do be careful: there are LOTS of youtube videos on “how to install a car seat” that are just plain wrong and dangerous.  If you want to be certain you installation is done right you can call Baby Bodyguards to do a car seat installation or call to arrange a free inspection at a DOT Child Car Seat Fitting Station. For Brooklyn it is at the Brooklyn Woodhull Hospital 760 Broadway, phone: (718) 963-6858.

Here are the most common mistakes they see:

1-Using LATCH in a center seating position when it is not allowed by the manufacturer – most vehicles do not permit you to install a car seat in the center, using the two inner LATCH anchors from the side seating positions. Check your vehicle and child restraint manuals. If nothing is specifically mentioned to allow it, don’t do it.

2-Using LATCH and a seat belt together – you must use one system or the other, not both. Either method is safe when used correctly, so go with the method that gets you the best install.

3- Using LATCH beyond the weight limit. LATCH is only good up to 40lbs unless otherwise stated in your vehicle or in the car seat manual. If the vehicle and car seat manuals defer to one another, err on the side of caution and assume a 40 lb limit.

4-Incorrect seat belt routing on a booster – make sure to read and follow the instructions for how to route the seat belt correctly over your child. Many boosters have arm rests that need the lap belt routed under them instead of over.

5- Loose car seat install – a car seat must be installed tightly enough that there is an inch or less of movement in all directions at the belt path when pushed or pulled on.

6-Incorrect belt path used on convertible seat install – you must use the belt path designated for the type of install you are doing. Usually the rear facing belt path runs under the child’s bottom/legs and the forward facing belt path runs behind their back.

7-Chest clip out of position (usually too low) – the chest clip should be at armpit level at all times.

8-Aftermarket accessories (head positioners, body padding/positioners, strap covers, hanging toys, under car seat mats/upholstery protectors, mirrors, suction cup window shades, seat belt tighteners/ratchets, bunting bags/liners, custom car seat covers, etc.) – if it did not come with your seat or is not specifically allowed by your car seat manual, don’t use it. The less “stuff” involved in your car seat install, the better. Nothing extra should go between the car seat and vehicle seat, the baby and the car seat, or the baby and the harness. Toys, mirrors, and window shades can come loose in a crash and injure passengers. Mats can interfere with an install. Many manufacturers will void the seat’s warranty if aftermarket products are used. There are no safety standards for these items, so even those that claim to be “crash tested” or “meet all federal safety standards” (there are none!) cannot be trusted as safe.

9- Not using the top tether anchor when the lower LATCH anchors are used for a forward facing seat – the top tether MUST be used when a seat is installed forward facing with LATCH.

10- Unfortunately the most common mistake we see, not by our clients, but just general observation, are parents riding around with babies/children with no car seat at all. I cringe every time I see this and just pray that child makes it through the early years without being subjected to a crash.

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Most of you have heard about Baby Bodyguards by now. First, they came and did an excellent “spec” on babyproofing our place, then they wrote a popular post on our blog about window guards for NYC, now they have been raved about on Park Slope Parents. They are getting lots of mainstream press as well.  The Baby Bodyguard family consists of hand picked Pediatricians, Nurses, Emergency Medical Technicians, Firemen, Contractors and Craftsmen, all of whom share the same passion for child safety.